Science

Study: Fundies Use “Science” to Try to Ban Porn

This post contains a video, which you can also view here. To support more videos like this, head to patreon.com/rebecca!

I’m not sure what’s up with me lately but I feel like I’ve done a dozen “update” videos in the past few months. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it’s just that I keep seeing news stories that related back to things I talked about in the past. Well guess what, HERE’S ANOTHER ONE! And this one is about PORN!

So obviously I’d like to start this video by thanking my patrons, because without them I would not be able to make videos like this, because in general YouTube frowns about topics like this, even if someone approaches it from a scientific standpoint. Because sex is bad, mmkay? But my patrons are the best. Like my most recent sign-ups, Anarch, Martin, Raphael, Eris, Noel, Adam, and Polly! Thanks pals!

First the new news, and then the update. A new paper published last month in Social Forces explores anti-porn sentiment in the United States, examining 35 years of trends behind the people who are most staunchly in favor of banning the distribution of pornography. Back in the ‘80s, it was mostly religious conservatives who argued against porn based on morality — God hates porn, it’s evil, it makes you a bad person, and therefore we should outlaw it. But in the past decade, research shows that anti-porn advocates have increasingly used social and cognitive science studies to support their position. Does that mean that anti-porn activists have “secularized?” Well, this researcher, sociologist Samuel L. Perry of University of Oklahoma found that in fact, over the years the average American has become less worried about pornography, and the anti-porn crowd has become almost exclusively Biblical literalists. Every other demographic has pretty much lost interest in banning porn.

Perry told the Academic Times that these days, “politicians cite science tactically, not sincerely: “You can’t say anymore, ‘We want to get rid of porn because it’s wickedness.’ But it’s completely legitimate to say, ‘We want to get rid of porn because it’s a public health crisis like opioids or meth.'”

But the science isn’t actually there. Perry has previously studied the connection between Christian nationalists in the US and “contested” science, noting how this group understands and accepts science except in areas where it challenges their staunchly held beliefs about the superiority of their religion and culture. Porn has become one of those “contest” areas, and it’s especially ripe for exploitation by Biblical literalists because the science isn’t settled. There doesn’t seem to be a strong consensus on pornography and its effect on our society amongst sociologists. But, while it’s not totally settled, there does seem to be a consensus that there’s just not enough evidence for porn to be declared some kind of public threat. It’s just not a “real” problem.

“Just after the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, lawmakers in the state legislature had the opportunity to consider gun control legislation one week after that horrific event,” Perry told The Academic Times. “They decided not to consider gun control legislation, but they did pass a resolution declaring pornography a public health crisis and to place ‘In God We Trust’ on all campuses were students and faculty could see them. … What lawmakers waste their time on matters.”

Something worth noting about this study: this was about who supports porn bans, not about those who support porn regulation or improving working conditions in the industry. For instance, I am an atheist who values science. I do not see any compelling scientific evidence for the dangers inherent to pornography and do not see the value in banning it outright. I do, however, see value in protecting the actors involved in pornography (as well as other sex workers), stopping the spread of STDs, stopping sex trafficking, removing shame from the discussion. And all of those things are complicated, requiring data and nuanced public policy to address — none would be helped by porn prohibition.

Now, onto the update! Two years ago I did a deep dive on NoFap, the movement of mostly young men who believe that pornography and masturbation itself is “bad” for you personally and society as a whole. I highly recommend you watch that video, because holy shit did I fall into a weird hole. If you know what I’m saying.

NoFap caught on in a big way on Reddit, where it was embraced by many non-religious people. Even the founder of NoFap is an atheist. So where do these guys fit into this study, which found that the vast majority of anti-porn activists are Biblical literalists? Well, the study only looked at surveys up until 2018 — NoFap has only really caught on in the past 5 or 6 years, and even then mostly online.

That said, just because you’re an atheist doesn’t mean you can’t fall prey to magical thinking. Many of the NoFap fans literally believe that abstaining from porn and masturbation gives them superpowers. Literal superpowers. 

Also, we’ve seen a trend over the past decade or so of atheists who, for lack of a better term, become useful idiots for Biblical literalists. Just check out what’s happened to skeptics and feminists in the UK, a shocking number of whom have joined with Christian conservatives to reject the science on transgender people in order to side with abject bigotry (Richard Dawkins being one, which recently led to American Humanists stripping him of their “Humanist of the Year” award. I’m sure he’s gutted.) 

So while I think it’s a great thing that the anti-porn brigade has shrunk down to a core group of theocrats, I don’t think that means that they won’t find new life among the credulous people who dropped their belief in God but still held on to baseless anti-science moralism.

Edit: This video is now back! Nicole Prause filed a DMCA takedown on it but YouTube determined that was invalid. I decided to go ahead and edit out her portion of the video anyway because now I’d like to do a slightly more in-depth update on her legal issues. Stay tuned!

Okay, I know we covered a lot in this video, so let me just end with the main points: there’s no scientific evidence that porn is inherently bad for society or for individuals, most of the people and politicians claiming to want to ban porn on the basis of science are cherry-picking Biblical literalists, there are still many people who buy into that argument even though they aren’t religious, and just because you are correct about the current scientific consensus on pornography doesn’t mean  you aren’t a completely bonkers person who should log off and touch some grass. Anyway, subscribe to my OnlyFans. I mean Patreon.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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